Data Science Techniques for Predicting Insider Threats Data Science Techniques for Predicting Insider Threats
Insider threats pose a serious risk to the public and private sectors. Their impacts can be devastating, leading to large financial... Data Science Techniques for Predicting Insider Threats

Insider threats pose a serious risk to the public and private sectors. Their impacts can be devastating, leading to large financial losses and damage to the company’s reputation. In fact, they are one of the most dangerous threats to organizations today.

Predicting insider threats and mitigating these risks is crucial for protecting businesses from potential dangers. That is where data science can help. Using various techniques, IT professionals can analyze large data sets to uncover patterns and make predictions. This proactive measure benefits enterprises by identifying risks before they materialize and preventing them from manifesting in the long run.

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Understanding Insider Threats

According to recent studies, a staggering 79% of security threats come from within an organization. Internal threats are common and can be costly and deadly. Whether it is intentional or unintentional misuse, any employee, partner, or contractor who has access to sensitive data can compromise a company’s accounts. 

When an event like this occurs, the consequences lead to an average of $179,209 in spending to contain it. Otherwise, it can result in the exposure of billions of records for cybercriminals to gain access to.

Types of Insider Threats

There are three main types of insider threats:

  • Malicious insiders: These are individuals who intentionally exploit their access to a firm’s resources for personal gain and to cause harm. Examples include staff stealing sensitive information to sell to competitors or sabotaging company systems for revenge.
  • Negligent insiders: Negligent insiders are workers who inadvertently cause harm through careless actions. They do not intend to cause damage, but their lack of awareness of security protocols can lead to vulnerabilities. In fact, 95% of data breaches result from human error.
  • Compromised insiders: These individuals are usually unwitting participants in attacks in which external hackers steal their credentials. The attackers then use them to gain unauthorized access to a business’s systems and data.

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Data Science Techniques to Predict Insider Threats

IT professionals already face immense pressure, juggling numerous responsibilities and facing high demand in maintaining secure systems. Studies reveal that 51% of IT leaders find their alert volume overwhelming, with 55% unable to take action appropriately. This constant barrage of alarms and the need to address them simultaneously leads to burnout and inefficient management of security threats.

However, data science can be the key to preventing this burnout and effectively combating insider threats. By leveraging data science techniques, companies can automate the detection process and reduce the burden on IT professionals. Some of these techniques include the following.

1. Anomaly Detection

Anomaly detection aims to identify patterns that deviate from normal behavior. Its goal is to flag unusual activities that could indicate potential insider threats. This technique works by analyzing historical data to establish normal behavior and then comparing real-time activities against this baseline to spot abnormalities. These anomalies can signal suspicious behavior that warrants further investigation.

This testing is particularly effective in identifying insider threats because they often manifest as deviations from typical user behavior. By focusing on unusual patterns — such as unexpected login times or large data transfers — brands can take proactive steps to mitigate risks.

2. Machine Learning Classification

Machine-learning approaches can categorize data into predefined classes, helping detect anomalous activities. This method involves training a machine learning model on labeled historical data, where the outcomes are already known. The trained model can then predict the likelihood of current activities falling into one of these classes.

The process starts with data collection and labeling, where IT managers annotate user activities with outcomes indicating whether they were normal or indicative of insider threats. Next, they can use this labeled data to train machine learning algorithms, such as random forest, support vector machines, or neural networks.

These algorithms then learn to recognize patterns and correlations with different behavior classes. Once the model’s training is complete, IT professionals can apply it to real-time data to classify activities and identify potential threats.

While this approach reduces the risk of significant damage, it also automates the analysis process. As a result, IT teams can focus on responding to real threats rather than manually sifting through the data themselves.

3. User Behavioral Analytics

User behavioral analytics (UBA) focuses on analyzing users’ behavior patterns within an organization to detect insider threats. By monitoring how users interact with systems and data, UBA can identify deviations that indicate malicious or negligent actions. This method leverages historical and real-time data, giving companies a comprehensive view of user activities.

IT leaders can apply advanced analytics and machine learning models to detect anomalies. These tools are powerful but do come with several challenges, one of which is ensuring employee privacy. Collecting and analyzing detailed user activity data can raise concerns, and organizations must balance the need for security with respecting individual privacy rights.

Additionally, establishing accurate baselines can be difficult, as user behavior can vary widely and change over time. This variability can lead to false positives. Therefore, human analysts are still crucial in discerning whether the anomalies are benign or genuine threats.

Despite these challenges, UBA is critical for enhancing a firm’s ability to predict and prevent insider threats. By providing deep insights into user activities, UBA helps businesses focus their security efforts on true risks.

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Enhancing Security With Data Science

Data science techniques are essential for mitigating  and predicting insider threats. While they enhance security, they also boost the efficiency of IT processes. By utilizing these techniques, organizations can better protect their assets and maintain a secure environment.

Zac Amos

Zac is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he covers data science, cybersecurity, and machine learning. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn for more of his work.